Russian Convoy Set to Enter Ukraine

A convoy carrying humanitarian aid from Russia is poised to start crossing the border to Ukraine as world leaders step up diplomatic efforts to ease tension in the country wracked by separatist unrest.

Deliveries may start today to Ukraine’s easternmost regions, where months of fighting has left thousands of residents without water and electricity, the Red Cross said. German Chancellor Angela Merkel will arrive tomorrow in Kiev, while Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said he’ll seek to negotiate a peace agreement with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, and European Union representatives next week.

“Despite the busy schedule, the prospects for a quick resolution of the crisis remain limited,” Otilia Dhand, an analyst at Teneo Intelligence in London who specializes in eastern Europe, said by e-mail. “With any short-term resolution unlikely, on the other hand, the prospects for preparing the ground for a longer-term rapprochement have begun to increase gradually.”

Russia, which Ukraine and its allies blame for stoking the insurgency, dispatched the convoy containing food and other supplies last week. The trucks have been parked near the two nations’ border awaiting clearance to proceed. Ukraine has been fractured by fighting that’s erupted since Russia annexed Crimea in March. Russia denies it’s involved in the conflict, which has triggered sanctions from the U.S. and Europe.

‘Merkel Plan’

Poroshenko said he will meet Putin and EU representatives next week in Minsk, Belarus, during a summit of the Customs Union, a Russia-dominated trade bloc.

Ukraine will seek aid in the form of a “Merkel plan” during the German chancellor’s visit, which will be a symbolic event a day before the former Soviet republic’s Independence Day, Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said on ZDF television today.

“The political support for Ukraine shows that aid for Ukraine is there -- many speak of a type of Marshall Plan, why not a type of Merkel plan,” Klimkin told the German channel from Kiev.

Ukraine’s currency, the hryvnia, strengthened 0.9 percent against the dollar as of 9:48 a.m. in Kiev, paring its decline this year to 38 percent, the second-worst among more than 170 currencies tracked by Bloomberg behind Ghana’s cedi. Russia’s Micex stock index fell 0.4 percent in Moscow, snapping a 10-day rally.

Inspections Begin

Inspections of the first groups of the almost 300 Russian trucks have begun, Laurent Corbaz, the International Committee of the Red Cross’s head of operations for Europe, said yesterday in Moscow. The organization had been seeking security guarantees as battles raged on between Ukraine’s army and pro-Russian separatists.

“The ICRC sent additional staff to the area and received all the authorization from the authorities to clear the aid and humanitarian cargo as soon as possible,” Corbaz told reporters. “The convoy could start its operation soon,” he said.

The ICRC is ready to start delivering the aid if Russia and Ukraine agree on the “strictly humanitarian nature” of the convoy and if assurances of safe passage are respected “by the fighting parties,” it said in a statement yesterday.

The trucks hadn’t started crossing the border as of 11 a.m. in Moscow.

Truce Call

Russia isn’t planning to invade Ukraine under the cover of the convoy, Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said after a meeting with Corbaz, according to the ministry’s website. The Foreign Ministry in Moscow reiterated a call for a cease-fire to facilitate the delivery of aid and proposed a UN Security Council statement on the truce, it said on its website.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in a phone call with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier, discussed the cease-fire call and steps to help deliver the humanitarian aid, the ministry said in a separate statement.

Fighting continued in Ukraine’s easternmost regions. Government troops killed more than 100 rebels and destroyed 11 Grad multiple rocket systems overnight, the Ukrainian military said today on its Facebook account. There were battles in six towns, while the separatists attacked nine checkpoints, it said.

The unrest poses a potential obstacle to the passage of the Russian aid, according to Galina Balzamova, a Red Cross spokeswoman who said a delegation visited Luhansk Aug. 20.

‘Travel Safely’

“The security situation is changing by the minute,” she said at the border with Ukraine in Russia’s Rostov region. “The convoy will only move when it can travel safely.”

Meanwhile, NATO countries preparing for a Sept. 4-5 summit are weighing their response to the events. Estonia, a former Soviet republic that borders Russia is confident that the military alliance will boost its presence in the Baltic country, Prime Minister Taavi Roivas said.

Hungary, another eastern European member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is ready to host military drills and contribute to strengthening the alliance’s presence, the Defense Ministry in Budapest said in an e-mailed response to questions from Bloomberg. Hungary is “certain” that the summit will yield agreements, including on the crisis in Ukraine, it said.

In Kiev, Poroshenko’s spokesman, Svyatoslav Tsegolko, said on Twitter that parliament may be dissolved on Aug. 24, the day on which Ukraine marks its 1991 declaration of independence from the Soviet Union. The nation plans to call early elections this year, after holding the presidential ballot that brought Poroshenko to power in May.

The votes are a consequence of former President Viktor Yanukovych’s ouster in February, when he fled to Russia amid violent street protests. A member of the government that took over, Economy Minister Pavlo Sheremeta, stepped down yesterday, citing the appointment of a deputy without his consent.

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